The Pin-up Art of Humorama

By various, edited by Alex Chun & designed by Jacob Covey (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-959-3

You’ve all done it; laughed at something you know you shouldn’t have and for us utterly reconstructed modern men – and, let’s face it, women too – sometimes a sexually, racially or otherwise politically incorrect joke or scene in an old movie or TV clip. You know it’s wrong, you know it’s wicked but dammit! – funny just is…

Once upon a time when we were all trapped in our cruel and unthinking hidebound world of stereotypes and pre-judgements, there was a thriving market for staggeringly coy smutty books, naughty cartoon joke periodicals and girly magazines for men.

Women read other things and we never enquired. It’s the only sensible example of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that I can think of…

After volumes of Pin-ups from specific comics stars (Dan DeCarlo, Bill Wenzell, Jack Cole, Bill Ward) this anthology celebration gathers the Rest of the Best from the prolific Humorama pulp-digest division. They provided saucy gags and male-oriented mirth from 1938 to the mid 1980s – when hardcore porn ended all the tamer men’s mag markets – ubiquitous little throwaway digests with titles such as Gaze, Jest, Stare, Joker, Zip, Breezy, Cartoon Comedy Parade and Romp, packed with photos of saucy vixens like Tina Louise, Sophia Loren, Betty Page, Irish (Sheena of the Jungle) McCalla, Julie (Catwoman) Newmar and her cheesecake ilk – and oodles of deliciously daring cartoons.

The company was part of the Goodman publishing empire which included Atlas/Marvel Comics and reached its pulchritudinous peak during the 1950s when Editor Abe Goodman was the biggest buyer of cartoons on Earth.

Once the sexual revolution began, however, the oddly innocent, clandestine “men only” craft atmosphere was lost to increasing in-your-face frankness and a steady decline into vulgar X-rated smut as good old-fashioned raciness and stolen illicit glimpses became the meat of TV and cinema.

After an illustrated foreword by Howard Chaykin and a comprehensive history from Editor Alex Chun the parade of risqué gags – populated by the kind of girls that made Mad Men such a hit and Marilyn Monroe immortal – works its wiles, stretches its intellects and stuns its willing prey in a glorious panoply of old-fashioned fun and frolics. These racy renditions are superbly rendered in colour, monochrome and all points in between – ink and wash, conté-crayon, pen and even photo-montages, and this tome even finds space to squeeze in a few amazing house ads.

From amongst the memorable proponents you’ve already heard of are gags by Ward, Wenzell, Jefferson MacHamer, Dan DeCarlo, Vic Martin, Kurt Schaffenberger (AKA Schaff), Louis Priscilla, Niso “Kremos” Ramponi, Bill Hoest, George Crenshaw, Michael Berry, Stan Goldberg, Jim Mooney, Dave Berg and Basil Wolverton, but there are so many others by unsung pencil-pushers equally deserving of your attention.

This charmingly innocent compendium of Lush Ladies, Willing Wantons, Savvy Sirens, Naive Nymphs (always stunningly beautiful women) collects more than 200 or so rude cartoons from a time when boys thought girls didn’t actually like sex – when in fact they just didn’t like us or the way we did it.

Technically, this isn’t a graphic novel or trade collection, it’s a picture book – but an absolutely stunning one, collecting some of the best and most guiltily funny illustrations ever produced: a beguiling remembrance of a different time and the sexual mores of an entirely alien generation which nevertheless presents an enticing, intoxicating treat for art lovers and, I’m afraid to admit, many hearty laughs. This is work which is still utterly addictive and the book is an honest-to-gosh treasure beyond compare.

© 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Foreword © 2011 Howard Chaykin. Introduction © 2011 Alex Chun. All rights reserved.